Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas Bird Count at The Wilds

A White-tailed Deer gazes at the photographer from a snowy meadow. Such conditions greeted participants at this year's Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count, which took place last Saturday, December 19.

The inaugural Chandlersville CBC took place on December 16, 1995. It took a while to get steady feet, missing six years between then and the present. In 2010, Scott Albaugh took the reins as compiler, and the count has been going strong ever since.

The 10,000 acre conservation and research refuge known as The Wilds is the best known component of the Chandlersville CBC, and Wilds staff have been big supporters. I have been fortunate, since 2010, to be part of the team that goes inside the fences at the Wilds. This year, our Wilds leaders were Jan Ramer, vice president of the Wilds, and Genelle Uhrig, wildlife ecology associate.

About 25 species of large mammals, many of them imperiled in their indigenous ranges, are housed at The Wilds. They have plenty of room to roam, and as many species come from cold climes, a Muskingum County winter is nothing to them. All these free-ranging mammals makes for an interesting bird count, and I'll share some of our mammalian observations here.

NOTE: We do NOT ignore the birds :-) The expansive grasslands, ponds, and scattered woodlots provide plenty of avian fodder and our crew located nearly 50 species.

This is the sort of situation that makes birding inside the fences of The Wilds surreal. A herd of Sichuan Takin temporarily block the way. This massive "goat-bear" hails from Tibet and adjacent provinces of China.

A young Sichuan Takin - I presume born earlier this year. Takins are quite Seuss-like, and a hit among all who clap eyes on them.

These Pere David's Deer were not especially intimidated by our crew. A large deer native to China, it was hunted out in its native range by the 20th Century. Fortunately some animals had been taken to European zoos, and stock from successful breeding in captive herds allowed for repatriation to China. About 700 Pere David's Deer are now in the wild, in their indigenous range.

Persian Onagers, the "wild ass". It is native to Iran, and perhaps only 600 onagers remain in the wild. Two foals born at The Wilds were produced by artificial insemination - the first time this technique was successfully implemented in a species of wild equid.

Ah, a personal favorite, the Bactrian Camel. These hardy beasts can handle extreme heat and cold, and have no issues dealing with an Ohio winter. Fortunately, perhaps, the male was not in breeding conditions. A few years ago, "Gobi" as he is known, lit out after our vehicle, frothing at the mouth and soaked with urine he had sprayed over himself.

After lunch, Genelle took me in to see the American Burying Beetles. This federally endangered insect has nearly vanished from the wild and is among the rarest of the rare. The Wilds successfully raises hundreds, and each year releases stock into suitable habitat. At least some have overwintered in the wild successfully, and hopefully this project will help reestablish this spectacular insect.

A week old female Southern White Rhinoceros, with her very formidable mother. The baby weighed about 100 pounds at birth; the mother is well north of 3,000 pounds. Thus far, The Wilds has successfully raised about thirty rhinos. We also saw an adorable male rhino calf, born only the day before our visit.

A Cheetah sends a baleful stare our way. This is one of three species housed at the relatively new Carnivore Center, African Painted Dog and Dhole being the others. While the Cheetahs have heated buildings to which they can retreat, they are remarkably cold-tolerant and spend a good deal of time outside even in the coldest of weather.

Lastly, perhaps my favorite of The Wilds' charges, the Dhole. These wild dogs once ranged over a broad swath of Asia, but have declined precipitously for a variety of reasons, but mostly due to growing human populations increasingly conflicting with them. Sometimes known as "Whistling Dogs", the Dhole has a wide vocal repertoire and is quite social. They are very playful, and the small pack at the Wilds is always fun to observe.

If you are looking for an interesting trip, consider a "Winter at The Wilds" tour. You'll see much of what I shared here, plus much more, and experts will fill your group in on each animal's story. Bring your binoculars, too, as the birding is good. CLICK HERE for more information.

1 comment:

L Sorth said...

I really enjoyed this post. These animals are amazing, THANK YOU!

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